In 1983, as a reporter for The Birmingham News, I wrote several stories looking back at the events of 1963. I worked with other reporters to track down many of the school children who had heeded Dr. Martin Luther King’s call to march in downtown Birmingham. Most of them, like Bernita Roberson Sawyer, had been jailed. She was 14 at the time, not much older than me, and had spent five days in jail. They described what it was like to be in jail as children and recalled how those events had shaped their lives as adults. In June, I wrote a 20-year retrospective on Gov. George Wallace’s “stand in the schoolhouse door” at the University of Alabama. Most of the key figures of that day were still alive, including Deputy U.S. Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach, who was still angry 20 years later about being made to stand in the sweltering sun while Wallace made his stand in the shade. Then in September, 20 years after the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church that killed four little girls, I had a front page interview with Chris McNair, the father of one of those girls, Denise. (more…)
What I remember most about our marching in 1963, was my being jailed after leaving Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, making it to City Hall, and being thrown in the paddy wagon with all guys! Being kept at the Fairgrounds, and later being sent to the County Jail, for taking part in trying to stop one of the police officers from raping one of the girls. I was kept in a sweat box for days upon days, and kept in jail over a month before my family located me! They kept saying I was too young to be there, but they tried to lose me. (more…)
A large Confederate flag filled most of one wall of my grandfather’s study in his Birmingham home during the 1950s and 1960s. It was always the first thing I noticed when I walked into the dimly lit room—a startling shout of hot red and star-studded blue against a dark stone wall.
On the opposite wall was a painting of the Princess Pocahontas, who, according to genealogical research by my great-grandmother, was said to be our direct ancestor. I heard once that my grandfather, proud of being related to royalty but uncomfortable with the darkness of the princess’s complexion, had Pocahontas’s skin lightened a bit before he hung the painting.
My grandmother used to take me with her to the grocery store in her old Dodge. When I was about six years old, I remember getting into her car one day and asking her the name of a Black lady we had seen earlier that day. She quickly reprimanded me, “Pam, you never call a colored woman a ‘lady.’” Actually, she probably didn’t say “colored woman,” but something else. I remember feeling smacked down by the reprimand. And I was careful not to repeat that grave breach of etiquette in the following years. (more…)
My family moved to Birmingham 4/15/62 because our father was sent there by the Baptist Sunday School Board (now Lifeway Christian) in Nashville, TN to build a new Baptist Book Store, which he did. My identical twin sis, Leah, and I were 12 years old in April (turned 13 that May) and were enrolled in Mountain Brook Junior High. Our parents had always bought the best house they could afford just within the best school district, and Mountain Brook was it when we moved there. Two horrific dates from 1963 that will forever be etched in our memories were the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church and the assassination of President Kennedy. Leah and I turned 14 years old in May, 1963.
We were at church at the all-white First Baptist Church close to the black church and our building shook and glass broke out of some windows when the blast went off. (more…)
I was born in Birmingham in 1954. My family lived in the Titusville neighborhood and I attended Center Street Elementary. My family were members of Sixth Avenue Baptist Church. My family was also very involved in the Civil Rights Movement. My uncle, Bernard H. Williams, had attended Morehouse College with Dr. King and they were Frat Brothers. My mother and grandmother were very close friends of Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, a Birmingham pastor who had taken many brave actions to push for changes in the Jim Crow laws. Many of the people in this group were and still are very close friends.
I remember 1963 vividly, mainly because of how violent it was, but also because of the bombing of 16th Street Baptist Church. Denise McNair, one of the girls who was killed, was one of my playmates, and we attended the same school at the time. (more…)